Let’s take a moment to talk about the state of men’s health, and who cares about it. Spoiler alert: the answer is that if we don’t care about ourselves, ‘society’ or the ‘government’ won’t care either.
The state of men’s health today is showing some warning signs. Life expectancy is plateauing or declining, and is definitely less than women. Awareness and funding are also low compared to the effort put into women’s health in recent generations. In this sense I am talking about public awareness and discussion. Specifically there are several different women’s health offices in the Federal Government today – some with extremely similar names. The ones I found are the:
- Office on Women’s Health
- Office of Women’s Health (no, this is not a repeat)
- Office on Women’s Health and Gender Research
- Office of Research on Women’s Health
- Coordinating Committee on Women’s Health
There are no corresponding offices for men’s health in the US. By contrast, some other nations such as Australia, do seem to care about and have resources dedicated to men’s unique mental and psychological health needs – see here for an example.
We all know about the pink ribbons and breast cancer awareness in October, and Women’s Health Week. There actually is a corresponding men’s health month in November, which is when your coworkers might be growing ridiculous mustaches, but there is definitely less awareness of it. How many people do you know who knew why the November mustache thing was a thing? The health aspect is rarely publicly discussed.
None of this means something is wrong without more facts. After all, it may be that women’s health is more precarious than men’s, or that breast and ovarian cancer kill a lot more women than prostate and testicular cancer kill men. Certainly pregnancy springs to mind as a health complication that only women experience. If that’s true, this apparent imbalance would be fair.
But the problem is that this isn’t actually true. Men are less healthy than women overall, as evidenced by our lower life expectancies. At last count life expectancy for men is 76 years and it’s 81 years for women. Prostate cancer is just as dangerous as breast cancer when measured in number of deaths. While there are many health issues that affect women more, there are also very many that hurt men much more than women. In other words, we aren’t the same, and we need resources that acknowledge that.
Let’s look more closely at the situation. The life expectancy is lower for men in every single state and within every racial and social group compared to that group’s women. In some groups, such as poor white men or Hispanic men, male life expectancy may actually be declining. Sex can be a stronger predictor of reduced life expectancy than race and its attendant socio-economic factors – the life expectancy of white men is less than black women, despite all the other socio-economic issues correlated with these two groups that might push things in the other direction.
The breast cancer to prostate cancer issue is similar. Depending on your source, prostate cancer kills nearly as many men as breast cancer kills women, or even slightly more men. But the funding for prostate cancer research is only a fraction of that for breast cancer, and of course, as mentioned above there are no men’s health offices. The justification sometimes given is that breast cancer kills at a younger age than prostate cancer does, but this is another way of saying that the lives of the younger women saved are more valuable than the older men lost.
Men are also more likely to suffer the following health issues:
- More likely to abuse alcohol and drugs – 2-3 times more likely for some types of substances.
- More likely to be overweight or obese, and less likely to succeed in losing weight.
- 10 times more likely to die from a work-related injury, and several times more likely to be injured on the job.
- 3.5 times more likely to kill themselves.
- Suffer heart disease earlier in life than women.
- Suffer from Autism and related conditions at a much higher rate.
- Are more than 30% more likely to die from cancer, due to both a higher rate of getting cancer in the first place, and the fact that the death rate is often higher for men compared to women who get the same cancer. For some types such as mouth or throat cancer, the death rate is several times higher.
Are over 30% more likely to die from cancer, due to both a higher rate of getting cancer in the first place, and the fact that the death rate is often higher for men compared to women who get the same cancer. For some types, such as mouth or throat cancer, the death rate is several times higher.
What can men do?
From a public point of view, we should be asking why there is not funding devoted to male health issues and raising our life expectancy to equal that of our sisters and wives. There should be funding for serious mental and physical health issues affecting half the population. I would encourage people to raise this issue with their politicians. But on an individual basis it’s always most useful to ask about our own responsibility.
The leading causes of death and disability for men – as for women – are mostly things you can mitigate if not control. So don’t wait for the world to notice our problems and try to fix them. Get started on fixing them yourself.
Heart disease, cancer, and obesity are linked lifestyle problems that can easily be reduced on an individual level. Eat a healthy amount of healthy food, and get lots of strenuous exercise everyday. Taking pride in your health and strength is the single best thing anyone can do for their own lives. You can also make sure to show up for all the recommended checkups with your doctor – getting a finger up your butt isn’t as bad as getting cancer there, so get it done.
Suicide and substance abuse fall into a social and mental health category that is murkier, but still under our control. Exercise actually helps with mental health too. But we should also consider the social aspect. Men seem to be more vulnerable than women to the modern world’s disassociation of human relationships. The number of men who say that they have people close enough to discuss their problems with has been declining for years. But having male friends is essential to health. As a man you also need to cultivate friend-and-family relationships with the same effort that your wife or girlfriend does. You need people you can talk to and who will look out for you. This kind of net is the best way to prevent yourself from falling into a mental health spiral in the first place, or to help you with seeking professional help if it does become necessary.
Remember to care about yourselves. If you don’t, no one else will.
There are some organizations trying to fill the gap right now – these are non-profits that try to address men’s lack of resources or information on these health topics. Some links below. I’m sure there are others out there.